As the digitization of businesses continues to accelerate, business processes have evolved to take advantage of the increasing benefits technology offers.
As the digitization of businesses continues to accelerate, business processes have evolved to take advantage of the increasing benefits technology offers. Likewise, manufacturers, long proponents of automation, understand the value that consistent processes and automated tasks can offer the organization.
A large part of this evolution is the addition of Digital Process Automation (DPA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to the Business Process Management (BPM) discipline. While DPA focuses on automating parts of processes to improve the customer experience, RPA’s job is to use software robots (bots) to leverage business logic and structured inputs as part of internal processes.
Software that is configured and used to monitor and interpret actions and data for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering actions or responses, and communicating with other digital systems.
Bots can be an asset for nearly any business, streamlining transactions, replicating and transforming data, triggering communications, filtering messages, and automating hundreds of other tasks. For manufacturing, RPA’s flexibility and agility can be used in myriad ways to lower costs, create efficiency, and improve employee and customer experiences.
However, the broad potential of RPA can make it difficult to see exactly where it could help your manufacturing business. Awareness of use cases can help clarify where RPA can improve things for your organization.
As we’ve discussed, DPA’s primary focus is on improving the customer experience. But that doesn’t mean that RPA doesn’t have a role for manufacturers in helping the business provide excellent customer outcomes.
Today’s customers expect a seamless experience across all channels and regardless of need. It isn’t acceptable for sales to have different information available than customer service, finance, or field reps. Even more important is the consistency and accuracy of that data. Keeping data consistent in Salesforce for the groups working out of that platform may not be a challenge, but replicating customer information from your CRM into your ERP, accounting, warranty, and e-commerce platforms has traditionally been a manual, error-prone process.
RPA eliminates the work of inputting data into a variety of systems. For example, a bot can be set up on Salesforce to trigger system updates across integrations to multiple systems in real-time when key fields are changed. Still, other RPA processes can be developed to manage customer data changes that may not be as critical in a batch manner, preventing performance slowdowns while still ensuring that the most important customer information is up-to-date and accurate at all times.
Internal communications and employee engagement are two sizeable challenges for manufacturers. Communication is a pivotal element of many organizations’ core operating philosophies, like security and safety information. Beyond these critical messages, information on scheduling, HR changes, IT outages, and more must be shared with employees.
Not all information is relevant to all employees every time, and simply blasting out emails or text messages to everyone can create attention fatigue. RPA processes can help automate internal messaging so that employees get updates and information relevant to their jobs and locations without being bombarded with communications that aren’t relevant to them.
A bot can also validate open and read data on crucial messages and re-send information to those employees who may have missed the initial announcement. A PRA process could even try multiple communication channels - first an email, and then a text message to those who haven’t read the email, and perhaps an automated phone call to those who have not opened the text message. This ensures that every employee sees critical safety information or security messages.
Sales teams must stay focused on providing products and value to customers. They may also need support from leadership to answer questions and provide approvals. In addition, they need accurate data to provide customers with the correct information and to set customer expectations. It’s a distraction for salespeople to have to replicate data, chase down approvals, or validate inventory availability, and inefficient for them to spend their time on these time-consuming tasks.
RPA can automate multiple elements of the sales process. Approvals can be filtered and routed to the appropriate leader for action, even re-routing messages unread for too long, such as handing off the request to another leader when a sales manager is out of the office. Alerts can be auto-generated and sent to sales teams to indicate low inventory levels. Orders can be auto-routed to finance systems to support invoicing. Plus, RPA bots could connect invoicing and payments to incentive systems, ensuring salespeople receive proper credit and commissions on time.
All this to say that using RPA to automate multiple levels of the sales process offers three enormous benefits:
Like each of the other categories, there are multiple areas where RPA can help improve the manufacturing process's accuracy, efficiency, and speed. One especially important, time-consuming, and complicated task is comparing prices for materials.
Maintaining proper margins on the products manufactured requires keeping a close eye on both the price and quality of materials needed. Price comparisons can be arduous but are critical to making buying decisions.
Because bots can be configured to compare more than just price, manufacturers can use RPA to give them a complete picture as part of their comparisons. For example, quality, availability, shipping times and cost, and other project attributes can be reviewed in addition to the cost of the materials. This offers a far more sophisticated engine for comparison. This can be especially handy during times of change, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, or when accounting for environmental or regional factors, like hurricanes, winter storms, and changes in tariffs and other economic considerations.
Automating the intake and processing of invoicing is low-hanging fruit for many manufacturers. However, ensuring that invoices are sent out in a timely fashion, detailing the correct order information and payment terms is an easy and effective way to use business process automation.
But RPA provides much more than just streamlining invoicing for manufacturers. For instance, end-of-month and end-of-quarter reviews, reconciliations, and reporting can strain accounting departments. Some of these challenges come from validation tasks, ensuring that data is accurate, and tracking errors before they are included in a quarterly report. If RPA is used to replicate the data from a single source of truth, data errors will be minimized.
Additionally, a bot can rapidly validate data across reports, look for anomalies, and send warnings and alerts to accounting teams for further review. This allows your teams to focus specifically on the areas that need closer inspection instead of trying to validate and process an entire month or quarter’s data in just a few days.
Automating processes across your manufacturing organization with RPA can improve safety, employee and customer satisfaction, cash flow, and communication. Whether you’re replicating and transforming sales data across platforms and integrations, routing and alerting management on sales, or informing plant teams about potentially dangerous or shifting situations, RPA can ensure accuracy, consistency, speed, and efficiency.
Are you ready to get started implementing automation in your manufacturing business? Or still, wondering how to get started using RPA to give you a competitive advantage? At Six Consulting, we’ve helped dozens of manufacturers improve and accelerate their processes using integrations and integral platforms like Salesforce. Contact us today to learn how we can help your business.
“Today’s customers expect a seamless experience across all channels and regardless of need. It isn’t acceptable for sales to have different information available than customer service, finance, or field reps. Even more important is the consistency and accuracy of that data.”
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